Howdy all. I've seen Spiderverse 4 times already, might be a tad obsessed. Also watched Asteroid City (quirky fun), No Hard Feelings (dumb fun), Dial of Destiny (adventurey fun) and Past Lives (just a great movie). And, of course, hype for the HoloEN concert tomorrow

The abandoned castle deep in Mistral's hinterland provided an excellent view of the wooded, misty valley below. Its crumbled battlements loomed over pines, standing like some decrepit old man marring the landscape. Shattered stones and creeping moss like broken bones and gangrenous skin.

Bishop Beauvais had spent weeks convalescing here, after a long and painful flight from Vale.

A place that had once belonged to an arrogant baron, before his lands were ripped to shreds by Grimm and infested ever since. In its remoteness and foreboding aura, a good hideout for the Enclave.

"You shouldn't be out in the field yet," his doctor had told him.

"It's quite dangerous, sir, as miraculous as your recovery has been so far," Shade had told him.

But I don't believe in miracles, Bishop thought to himself. Not anymore.

He leaned on Rubra Mors, using it like cane. His dutiful sword served him well in times of peace as well as times of war. Its sharp point grated against the stones, but it refused to dull.

Bishop watched as a wave of evening fog rolled in over the hills. "A beautiful view, isn't it…" His words slurred and trailed off in the last syllables. The left side of his cheek twitched. The flesh there was pink and raw with just a thin film of skin; the muscles, less developed than the right side. His uneven face noticeably sagged, like a stroke victim's. The good doctor had assured him that this would change, given the pace of the healing. Not fast enough.

He looked down at the cape that covered his left arm. The concealment was as much for his own benefit as that of the small garrison here.

At first, the doctor had raised the idea of a robotic arm and eye. Of skin and hair grafts. Even some organ transplants might be necessary. Unnecessary. His body took on the task. Miraculously.

But Bishop did not believe in miracles. Not anymore. Not after seeing the unimaginable in the Wasteland. Not after losing what was left in Remnant.

And he knew his own body. It's abilities.

"Your vault," his father had said, "was dedicated to the naturalistic development of mankind. Your vault," President Eden had said, "was made to create the perfect soldiers. Not through those degenerate efforts as employed with the super mutants.

"No, strains of the FEV combined with natural, eugenical selective breeding from the start. Like the Spartans. An unlocking of natural human DNA. Those other FEV strains contain the DNA of everything from viruses to worms and alter a human's genes. They contort and twist worse than even raw radiation. You are special."

He was chosen.

Bishop tightened his grip on Rubra Mors's handle.

"I know, father." He mumbled the words to no one in particular. He looked down at his sword, and said to it, "Rubra, you know, don't you? How much I've done?"

The sword's silence sounded to him like a yes. It always said what Bishop needed to hear.

"I know I shouldn't do this too much," Bishop muttered. "Talk to you, I mean. That's how people go mad. Before I know it, you'll start really answering."

Rubra Mors's silence was ominous.

"Ah but"– he coughed –"who else to talk to now? No one else knows the truth. Could ever know. Earth is truly gone. Now that Arthur…"

Bishop limped to a broken segment of the rampart. He plodded along the wall aimlessly. He peered down into the valley beside him. The howls of far-off beowolves tingled in the air.

He sat down on a cracked stone block and sighed.

"I have to admit," he slurred out, "that my body's resilience has surprised even me. I feel ashamed, for doubting all of my vault's work… but you can understand. You've been with me."

Rubra Mors seemed to agree.

"I try to be appreciative…" He leaned Rubra on the wall beside him. He brushed his free hand again the eyepatch that covered his left eye. It too, would heal. "In time. Which is frustrating…"

Rubra Mors urged him patience.

"I know." He sighed again. He tried to lean back against the wall, shifting his weight onto his right shoulder so that his caped left arm had no weight placed on it. "I know. And that's what got me into this mess. My impatience. Losing my temper."

If I hadn't over-used my semblance all that night, then I wouldn't have gotten blinded and had a migraine. My eyes only started bleeding because I pushed myself too hard. It had felt like two stakes had been driven through them and into my brain. I didn't think that something that dramatic would occur…

Rubra Mors heard his thoughts. It told him not to be so hard on himself.

"I know," Bishop said. "I know."

Another beowolf howled in the distance.

"Soon," he said. "Soon, the doctor will give me the approval to go out and start slaying all the beasts I can desire. Back in practice. Not like I need her permission…"

Rubra Mors urged caution.

"But I will wait for now."

He closed his eye and rested the good check against the cold stone. His healing side wouldn't be able to feel and appreciate the coolness or coarseness of the old rock. Maybe not ever.

"I just wish they would hurry up," he muttered, "with vetting our female members."

Rubra Mors agreed.

Humans are such deeply adaptable creatures. Floods, earthquakes, heatwaves and tornadoes. We roll with life's punches; be they inconvenient or catastrophic; temporary or irreversible. The irradiated remains of Earth and the populations that remained there were proof of this. Jaune himself was proof of this. Quickly adapting both to the harsh lifestyle and the even harsher mindset of the Wasteland. Fortifying his mind against the cruel murder of raiders or the gruesome devourings of the supermutants. Toughing through the putrid air and coughing fits, braving the dry and disgusting food.

But he had never sailed—not the open sea, at least. This was the one environment which refused to concede any peace.

Jaune wretched, hurling overboard the last of the jerky and water that had served for his breakfast.

He hung his head in defeat. The ocean below sloshed up against the side of the ship; and for a moment, it seemed like—not due its sound, but its essence—a gloating laugh. The ocean had gotten the better of him, and it knew that.

He spat spitefully down into the foams.

Jaune sighed, ran his hands down his face stretched himself back up. His stomach cramped and protested at the movement, but he had learned it was best not to linger.

When he turned back around, his scowl quickly furrowed ever deeper.

Neo was laughing at him—silently, of course. If you listened closely, then you could just maybe hear the air slipping out between her teeth.

Jaune signed quiet.

That immediately shut her up, getting her to snootily toss her chin in the air.

She had originally taught him that sign for its potential tactical value, e.g., she could notify him when he was making too much noise at a precarious moment. He had flipped it around on her, and now used it whenever she dared to tease or insult him.

It got under her skin a bit, and he liked that.

Neo snapped twice to demand his attention, then pointed at the steel chair opposite her. They had folded out a table kept in the hold for meals, as well as a couple of rusty fold-out chairs that creaked in pain whenever someone sat on them—even Neo, as light as she was.

Thankfully for the chairs' continued health, Orion was quite comfortable sitting on his haunches. So it was that the trio could gather around when the rain wasn't falling, the sea wasn't tossing too bad and the wind wasn't putting up too much of a fuss—and play cards.

Poker, to be exact. "My dad taught me so we could play sometimes. Lots of people still liked to play it on the road where I come from. Though I don't like it as much as Caravan," Jaune said. Orion explained, "there were poker nights organized every Friday for the councilors. I think I've gotten decent at it." Neo had typed out on a scroll: Roman Torchwick taught me.

Jaune had learned that Torchwick taught her many things.

"At first I just thought she was mostly getting revenge for herself," he told Orion one night when she had gone to sleep below deck. "But I'm starting to think it's actually more for him."

Orion had snorted. "Took you long enough to realize."

Back in the present, Jaune sat down at the table, quickly swiping up the cards. "Did she take a look at them?" he asked Orion.

Neo flipped him off.

The deathclaw clicked his teeth together. "No," he said, "but I did."

"Well then maybe you'll actually have a chance this time."

"We will see." Orion held his cards gingerly in the tips of his long claws, almost like using chopsticks. It would be so easy to scratch or cut them, but each one was flawless. The only damage that had been to the deck was from Jaune and Neo. The former had a bad habit of idly bending the cards as he thought; the latter liked to scratch the corners with her fingernails.

Jaune turned his attention back to the game. His eyes flicked up to his opponents'. Neo, brown and pink. Orion, glossy yellow with slitted pupils. Neither betrayed any emotion.

"All in," Jaune said, pushing forward his pile of bottle caps.

They had taken a crate of soda bottles with them on their journey, one of the few non-contraband goods the smugglers took to appear more legitimate for inspections. They had blown through the orange drink in the first week.

By pure habit, Jaune had saved the bottle caps. And when Neo offered a poker game, it was the first thing his mind went to as their gambling stand-in.

After all, it wouldn't have been a stand-in back in the Wasteland.

"I call," Orion announced. He pushed his pile of caps into the center.

Neo, without hesitation, pushed hers in, also.

"Alright then," Jaune said. "I guess it's time—"

Jaune jumped at the word, hardly recognizing the voice that said it.

The only other person it could be, of course, was the impromptu 'captain' of theirs.

Jaune slammed his cards face down onto the table. "What?" He hopped out of his chair, which teetered back and clattered onto the deck like a drunk. "Really?"

"Really!" The man said, a grin splitting his unshaven face. Jaune couldn't really remember his name.

"Here, here," the smuggler said. He beckoned Jaune up the rickety stairs that led to the captain's lookout at the rear of the ship. "Or—no, let's go to the prow!" He waved a pair of binoculars and stumbled down the steps.

The man very pointedly did not look at Orion or Neo.

He rushed to the front of the ship, beckoning Jaune to follow. Shuffling quickly over the deck, he practically slammed into the railing in his excitement. "See!" he said. "Come and see! I did it! We're here!"

Jaune snatched his binoculars and peered through. True enough, on the very edge of its range, Jaune now just barely saw the thin line of an emerging landmass on the horizon.

"And you're sure that this is it?" he asked, without taking down the binoculars. "You got us on the right track?"

"Yup!" He puffed out his chest proudly—or perhaps with performatory pride. "I got twisted around once back there, but the star charts here all work!"

"Hpmh." Star charts. It was a wonder these people on Remnant could function without GPS. "You better be right."

"I am!" the man said. He got closer to Jaune, then thought better of it and backed away. "I am. I swear. I really swear it. I did my best for you. You gotta believe me. I mean there's no reason I wouldn't—"

"I do."


"I believe you," Jaune said. "No need to convince me of that."

"Oh… oh, that's great!" The man clasped his hands together excitedly. "And so… our deal? After all, I got you where you needed to go. Right here on the shore of Mistral. And the Arch of the Rising Sun is just a bit north along the shore. Not far at all! And from there, you can loop around and get on some of the secondary roads—"

"Yeah," Jaune said. "I know. We already planned that part out."

"Right, of course! I'm not calling you stupid or short-sighted or anything, haha." The man's nervous laughter sounded unconvincing even to him. "And our deal?" Smiling hopefully.

"You mean, letting you go after we get on land. Never talk about it again."

"That one." The man nodded. "Yup, never saw you guys, don't know anything about you or where you're going—"

"Neo told me a bit about what you guys did," Jaune said. He didn't bother looking at the man. He folded the binoculars and stuffed them in his pocket, leaving both of his hands free. "About the cargo you guys ferried."

"Well, we worked with a lot of stuff," the man said. "Just to stay alive, you know? The place I come from, it fell on hard times and—"

"Not interested in any excuses," Jaune said. "And yeah, Neo told me about the stolen and bootleg merch you ferried back and forth. And the stuff you just didn't want to pay taxes and dues on. And the drugs."

"Not a lot of drugs, though," the man said. "N-not a lot at all. I mean, compared to some other people, like the psychos who work with the Vacuo crews. That's all their game. Us, we—"

"And the people"


Jaune, slowly, turned his head to look at the man. "And the people. Neo told me about rumors, how you guys would ship people sometimes. That true?"

"I…" The man looked away. "Yeah, people who wanted to skirt around borders—"

"That's not what I mean." He cracked his knuckles. "Neo said there were some operations that involved telling girls they would be models, or picking them up drunk outta clubs."

The man's hands started to shake. He hid them behind his back.
"Some real nasty stuff," Jaune said. "Neo said it was the kinda thing even she and Roman stayed away from."

"I mean," the man swallowed. "We didn't—"

"Don't lie to me."

No words for a moment. "We…" He was very quiet. "We worked with dangerous people. Mistakes were made and sometimes you can't say no—"

Jaune lashed out, grabbing the man by his shoulder and slamming him chest-first into the railing. All the wind was knocked out of him as his ribs shattered. Paralyzed, he couldn't even begin to fight. Not that it was possible to, anyway.

Jaune grabbed his head in both hands and savagely twisted. A loud snap punctuated the quiet deck.

He threw the corpse overboard.

"And that's that," Jaune said, dusting off his hands. He turned to his two companions, neither of whom looked altogether bothered by his actions. "Guess this thing'll run into the beach soon and we're good to go."

The ship shuddered as it ran ashore.

Jaune whooped and leapt off the prow, hitting the sand and tucking into a roll that left him sprawled out on the short beach.

"Yes!" he shouted. "Oh look at me"– he waved his legs and arms back forth across the ground –"I'm making a sand angel!"

Orion peered over the prow. "Hm. Glad to be on solid land again?"

"God yes," Jaune said. He scooped up fistfuls of sand and threw it on his chest. "Just bury me here. I'm happy." He patted his stomach, which felt like it was thanking him for finally giving it a respite from the ceaseless ocean waves.

Orion leapt over the railing, spraying up a wave of sand that splashed over Jaune. While that may have been what he asked for, the not insignificant amount of sand that also fell into his mouth wasn't exactly fun.

He rolled onto his side and spluttered, spitting out sand grains back onto the beach. It was coarse and rough and irritating—and it got everywhere.

He picked himself back up, patting off his clothes and shaking his head as he did. Orion snorted in amusement. He glanced up and saw Neo also with a grin.

He signed quiet to her again.

She gave him the middle finger, again.

"Welp," Jaune said, "let's get our supplies and head out. Due north and we'll make it to the Arch of the Rising Sun in no time."

Some time passed, and they had not yet reached the Arch of the Rising Sun.

"A part of me is starting to think," Jaune thought out loud, "that maybe we shouldn't have totally trusted the two-bit smuggler."

"Hm." Orion growled his low, thoughtful hum. "What reason would he have to lie?"

"I don't think he did; I think he was just stupid." Jaune hopped up on a rock that jutted up over the beach. Over the past couple days, the shore had progressed from being sandy to pebbly. Gravel and sharp stones mingled with dirt, broken glass and seaweed that looked and smelled like Poseidon's vomit.

Jaune brought up the binoculars and peered north along the coast. Winter was rolling through now, and the oceanside was increasingly foggy. He couldn't see very far, but he certainly saw no Arch.

"I think the moron got used to traveling between a couple spots, then got turned around a bit. Damn it." Jaune brought the binoculars down and forced himself not to grip them too hard; he was strong enough now to shatter them easily. He also pushed away the desire throw them down onto the rocks and bask in the satisfaction of seeing all the shards of glass and plastic fly apart. Breaking things could make him feel better.

Breathe deep. Hold. Release.

He let himself feel cooler, then stashed the binoculars back into the heavy duffel bag lashed across his back. "We're definitely in Mistral. So there are two options:

"A.) We landed further south of the Arch than we thought, so we just need to keep going a bit and we'll still get there.


"B.) We landed north of the Arch, and we're just getting further away."

Jaune crossed his arms, scowling down out into the tricky ocean that had gotten them into this mess.

"A conundrum," Orion said.

Neo grimaced.

"Ok." Jaune pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let's say… we keep going north for another day. It looks like the shore starts changing"– he pointed in the distance, where the land beside the beach indeed began to rise higher and higher, sharply giving way to imposing cliffs –"and we should be able to get some better views from over there."

Neo pulled the burner scroll—which Jaune had given her a while ago—and started typing. She tossed it to him.

And if we don't see anything from the high ground?

"Then we can keep heading north," Jaune said. He tossed her back the scroll before he got the urge to crush it, too. "Yeah, it pisses me off. A lot. But at this point it'll be an even bigger time waster to double back."

"True," Orion said.

Jaune wrenched and unfurled a map from his back pocket. "We're supposed to be here… but we haven't seen this river yet…"

The shore gradually got rockier and rockier as it also receded. As if somehow they were treading along older territory, made harsher in appearance and spirit by time. Even the trees beside the ocean turned increasingly dense, with craggier bark and thicker branches and gnarled roots that clutched the hard ground.

The squat hills that had hugged the beaches thus far rather suddenly erupted higher, where millions of years ago an earthquake must have ripped some portion of even earlier plate tectonics into the sea. Jaune now found himself face-to-face with a sheer, chalky cliff wall that loomed high, high over him. It made him feel like a child, standing before a huge adult and powerless against it.

"Yup," he said, "I can climb this."

"We can double back and hike around—"

"Nah, climbing right up the side will be faster."

"It could be dangerous if you fall—"

"Day one of Beacon, they chucked us off a cliff."



"What kind of school is that place?"

"No idea."

"Hmph." Orion growled in contemplation, or perhaps disapproval. (Jaune was still learning how to read him.) "That seems dramatic."

Neo rolled her eyes.

Jaune shrugged. He stepped back, hands on his hips, and observed the looming cliffs. It reminded him of the Operation Anchorage simulation; only this time, it was real.

"Alright then…" He slapped his hands together, rubbed them to heat up some friction and blew on them. Why he did any of that, he did not know, but it felt like he was preparing, and that made him a little more confident.

Orion spoke up again: "Perhaps we can fashion some rope—"

"Here we go!" Jaune broke in a sprint, kicking up buckets of gravel and sand as his feet smashed against the ground. His aura tightened and contracted around him, in him, as his body reached its superhuman potential.

He grunted and leapt, sending himself 5 feet into the air before colliding against the cliff. It hit his chest a bit more than he would have liked, knocking some of the wind out of him.

But he used his momentum and own unnatural strength to smash his hands into the rock surface. The stone splintered and cracked as he tore his fingers into it.

Then he held on, and for a second he merely hung there, attached to the cliffside.

"Ok…" Breathe deep. Hold. Release. He tore one hand free, reached up and smashed it into the cliffside again, cracking the stone and securing himself another handhold.

He did this with the other hand, and so on and so forth until he was steadily—albeit slowly and laboriously—hauling himself up the side of the mountain.

He couldn't help but think of how Ren, Ruby or Blake could probably sprint right up the side with their speed. Or how Nora would just launch herself up with a grenade; Yang could do the same with her gauntlets. Maybe Pyrrha could hop on her shield and use her semblance to zoom up. Weiss could certainly use her glyphs.

Out of them all, he was by far the least remarkable, the most unrefined.

Jaune gulped and tried to focus on the task at hand. One hand after the other, hauling himself further up. It was different from the Anchorage experience, for sure, but he got flashes of deja vu every time he looked down and saw the ground receding beneath him.

Seconds passed. Minutes passed. Sweat dripped down his face and his breath got ragged. The cliff bent inwards, the result of huge waves and beach-rolling winds across millennia. It meant that he couldn't see the top anymore, and he had to cling on even tighter.

One cracked fistful after the other. His hands cramped and got sore, aura fighting to keep his fingers from breaking.

Ruby would've finished this in five seconds—

Don't think about any of that.

The back of his mind where doubt generally hid began to be increasingly present, and then it started to take over. He looked down and couldn't tell if he had gotten much higher. It felt like he wasn't making much progress at all—soon, a humiliating fall and a need to double back and hike around would be required.

Breathe deep. Hold. Release.

He continued up, and just as he was starting to wonder when—not if—he would fall, his hand reached up and came back down with the intention of slamming into stone once more.

Only to wave through open air.

His fingers dug into pebbly soil and dry grass. He smiled.

Jaune hauled himself up over the ledge, rolling over onto his back with his grin widening.

"Made it!" he shouted. With a grunt, he sat up and swung his legs over the ledge, letting him look back down at the now small companions. Orion waved; Neo clapped as if she was very impressed.

"Screw you too," Jaune said to her, quietly. But there was no anger behind the words. "Ugh." He turned his attention to massaging his fingers; the skin on his hands was scratched raw, although his aura hadn't allowed any cuts through. His phalanges to his carpals felt sore.

Up there, on the cliffside, he couldn't help but think of initiation again. Specifically, Ruby running up a cliff and cutting off a giant nevermore's head. Even through his stoic persona back then, his jaw had dropped.

Because she was amazing.

And just like, this sense of accomplishment twisted up into a darker mood, like fluffy cumulus clouds condensing into a brooding nimbostratus.

Don't think about the past, he told himself, think about the present. And the future.

So he picked himself up off the ground, fished out his binoculars and turned with intention of finding a hill or maybe a tree to climb and see—

He gasped.

Farther down the coast, near the horizon's edge, he spotted something unmistakable. A brick formed in his chest, his synthetic heart whirring and dragging down.

He swallowed but his mouth was dry.

Because he recognized the rusty, abandoned lighthouse that teetered atop the cliffside.

And so history rhymes